Saturday, July 6, 2013

Life is Pain...and Great. I Guarantee It.

"You're gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it."
Sound familiar?
That's the tag line of Larry Zimmerman of Men's Wearhouse.You know, the men's suit store? Larry's the founder and CEO--the voice behind the tag line, the brain and the brawn behind one of the largest men's apparel stores. A week ago, he was fired by his board. No explanation given--just "Larry, your services are no longer needed." Like an old suit, he was no longer a good fit with his company. So now, one of the world's most well known and successful entrepreneurs is faced with inventing a new career for himself.
Just shows how fast you can go from headline to sideline.
From "top of the line" to the unemployment line.
That is life, isn't it?
Some people say "Life is pain." They're usually angst-y artists, gruff gangsters and Debbie Downer types, but sincere none the less.They focus on the dark side of life--the loss, the loneliness, the desperation.
Then there are those who say "Life is Great!" They're usually spoiled, 20-something year old idealists who's biggest life trauma was the loss of their wisdom teeth, but still, they have a point, too. Life can be great.
Life is pain. 
Life is great. 

Sometimes when my life is going well--you know, bills are paid, the sun is shining, my stomach is full of chocolate and God feels near, I think, "Life is good!" But if you're like me, in the midst of the happiness, you wonder how long before Debbie Downer comes knocking.

Hi Hope, I'm Debbie Downer.
Yeah, I know who you are. Do you have to come in? 
Yes, I do. You know I do. 
She looks depressed and hungry which worries me. Last time she was here she ate all the peanut butter.
Alright then. But don't get too comfortable. There's nothing in the fridge; the cable is out and I just had the house fumigated.
Debbie pushes by me and slinks into the kitchen.  She sniffs out the piece of chocolate cake hidden behind the toaster and devours it in one gulp.

I'm not one of those people who goes looking for Debbie. You know the types who complain about desserts being "too chocolat-y" or mashed potatoes being to "butter-y"? They're never happy except when they're miserable. I am a happy lass. I think positive. I laugh easily. I couldn't hold a grudge if it came with handles. But I am also realistic enough to know that it doesn't take much to go the way of Suit-Man Larry Zimmerman. One minute you're "Big Man on Campus" and the next you're the scrub going head first into a trashcan on the senior lawn.
Here's my point. I don't mean to bring you down. It's just that the older I get the more I realize that life is great AND life is pain. The pain part comes from my realization that nothing great lasts. That old phrase, "Enjoy it while it lasts!" is really true. I love the way theologian Karl Barth puts it:

Eventually, we all will have to give up what we have desired, pull down what we have built and let our achievements be surpassed and supplanted by those of others...We should recall in truth that all things have an end and if for this very reason we could hope.

Life is pain for me, when I lose sight of hope. In other words, my lowest point in life is when I feel far from God. And it's my fault. He doesn't go anywhere. He might feel far off, but it is me that is either pushing him away or wandering away hoping he doesn't follow. I lose my grounding when this happens.  I lose resiliency. I find myself feeling detached and depressed, not in a profound, can't-get-out-of-bed kind of way, but just in a "funk" -- you know?
Life is pain when I feel like he doesn't love me. I know he does in my head, but in my heart, when I start to hear the words of others as God's--when the church's voice gets louder than God's--I am in trouble. Not that all Christians are judgmental, but unfortunately it just seems like the ones that are, are loud. They're like teenagers at the mall - they love to draw attention to themselves in every way possible to stand out above the crowd. And the media loves to hand them the mic.

So tell, us Pastor so and so...How do you feel about homosexual marriage?
Well, Matt, I just feel like it is going to be the downfall of our nation. The fate of this country is being dragged down into the pit of hell by homosexuals. Their lifestyle is abhorrent and God condemns it.
Meanwhile, countless gay people run screaming from God, never to return. In that moment, it was more important for this pastor to be right, than righteous.  He would rather make his point, then point to Christ. Just once, I'd love to hear a pastor say (and not a liberal, hemp wearing Unitarian one, I mean a Bible believing fundamental Baptist one):
You know what Matt, I have beliefs about homosexuality and marriage and feel strongly that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I have stronger feelings about how God wants me to treat people and I know that beyond a doubt, Jesus loves all people. So, if you'll excuse me, I am going to head into West Hollywood and let people know that God loves them, gay or not.

I just finished Jeff Chu's book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" and it is full of judgemental Christians and for that reason I found it to be a completely depressing read. I finished it and thought:
Jeff!  Where is your hope as Gay Christian man? You just gonna leave us like that? End it right here? You're just gonna tell all these painful stories and then end the book with just a few pages of "God loves me, I guess, but it's hard." Although, I don't blame him for dedicating the majority of the book to the stories of gay Christians.  They're fascinating and disturbing all at once and that was the point of Jeff's book--to travel around the country and interview multiple gay Christians who were told, "God doesn't love you and neither do I!" by a variety of people within their church, community and family. Some of these gay Christians were "counseled", some were "treated", prayed over (pray away the gay), cast out, shunned, you name it. If you read what some of them went through and didn't have the personal experience that I have you would probably say, "No way!  People would NEVER say or do something like that!" And unfortunately, I can say loudly, "Oh yes, they would."  I know because I have heard, experienced and seen it. And these words of rejection, of disgust in some cases, become God's words even when they are not. One gay female Episcopal priest (HORROR!) said, "The good news I recognized is that God is not to be equated with the church. God said to me, though not in words, I am bigger than the church. Do not equate the institutional church with me."  She goes on to describe the church as a tool to do God's work in the world and to spread the gospel, but "it is not to be equated with the omnipotence, the majesty, the mystery of God."  This was near the end of Jeff's book and it felt like a 4 Hour Energy Drink to my tired soul.
And then the other day, still brewing from reading Jeff's book, God used Def Leppard to tell me He loved me.
Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. But just wait. It get's crazier when you hear the song He used:
Pour Some Sugar on Me.
OK, this song is about a man's love for a woman and is sexual in nature to say the least.  It is a great running song and I was jogging down a trail when it came on SiriusXm.
"Love me like a bomb..bomb...bomb...."
Suddenly, in the middle of this British hair band's greatest hit I had this distinct thought:
"If man can love a woman this much, how much more must God love me?"
And I got the chills.
By the way, I should mention here that I am not a pentecostal or charismatic. Evidently, God speaks to them through Def Leppard all the time. For me, a newbie Lutheran-raised-Baptist, these types of experiences do NOT happen. God would never, ever, ever use secular (Baptist translation: Satan's) music to speak to me. The best I could hope for is that God might "hint" something to me through the Carpenters.

OK, so maybe I was just enjoying a runner's high, or maybe, just maybe--God was getting pretty frustrated with me listening to the judgmental voices of others or reading them in Jeff's book and thinking they were His words. He knew that Debbie Downer had found my chocolate cake. He knew I was sinking into the "Life is pain" pit and he pulled me out of it. It took an electric guitar and a steady, heavy drum-beat, but it worked.
Then I heard a selection from "The Bible Study Podcast" by Chris Christiansen (With a name like that, did he have a choice of podcasts?!) that also helped. You can listen here: The Bible Study Podcast
Here is the passage of Scripture Chris read:

Acts 14:8-19
In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Did you catch that? Just like George Zimmerman, Paul goes from the pinnacle to the pit in no time. He literally goes from god to heretic in a matter of hours! One minute they're hailing him as a god, dragging animals to him to be sacrificed in his honor and the next they are throwing rocks at him and dragging him outside the city to die. (Just another day for Paul!) But he doesn't die.The disciples gather around him, help him up and he continues with God's work. He probably limped and had a headache the size of Corinth, but he keeps going. Blood, tears, bruises, words of hate ringing in his ears and all.

Yes, life is pain.
Life ends. 
God does not. Can not. Will not.
Life is great.
All good things, including life itself, must come to an end, but with God, the end is yet another beginning. A magnificent beginning that knows no end. And no loss. No pain. 
In this everlasting Love and Truth, is where I place my hope. 

Try THAT suit on for size Debbie!
And wipe your mouth.You got chocolate all over it.

Hope A. Horner, 2013
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